Goa’s Basilica of Bom Jesus could lose iconic red look to conserve the structure
One of the most iconic religious structures at Old Goa, The Basilica of Bom Jesus, which is home to the sacred relics of revered saint Francis Xavier, may soon have to shed its old look to prevent further deterioration of the red church, made up of laterite stones, due to continuous exposure to the elements.
“If you visit the Basilica and take a close look at the structure now, the stone has been irreversibly damaged by weathering, in some places there is a loss of detail and ornamentation or it has been badly disfigured. In other areas, the stone itself crumbles into powder upon touching and the dust accumulates on the ground,” Rector of the Basilica Fr Patricio Fernandes, a Jesuit priest, said.
“Due to its exposed laterite exterior and other factors like the rapid urbanisation of Old Goa and the unseasonal rain all through the year, the walls of the Basilica remain wet. The laterite stone gets saturated so much that the water even starts dripping through the inside walls. This never happened in the past,” he adds.
The Jesuit church, which was consecrated in May 1605, is India’s first minor basilica, and is considered to be one of the best examples of baroque architecture and Portuguese Colonial architecture in India. It is also one of the Seven Wonders of Portuguese Origin in the World.
The Basilica was fully plastered like every other church in Goa and remained so for close to 350 years since its inauguration in 1605 till the early 1950s and bore a white look owing to its limestone plaster. However, in the early 1950s ‘conservation’ architects from Portugal (of which Goa was then still a part of) had it removed as part of propaganda initiated by the Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Salazar and the Estado Novo state.
“The Estado Novo came to power in Portugal in the 1930s promising an economic and cultural renewal of Portugal and its overseas territories. They began renovating monuments in Portugal and their overseas territories to make them look more ancient so as to reflect the values of the regime. They sent an archaeological mission from Portugal led by the Portuguese architect and restorer Baltazar de Castro to renovate the monuments of Old Goa for the exposition of St Francis Xavier in 1952,” Fr Fernandes added.
“The architectural renovations in Old Goa were a means to prove just how rooted the Portuguese presence in Goa was. These acts of political propaganda masquerading as architectural conservation were done without consultation with Goan experts or the public at large. The Basilica has been dying a slow death ever since,” he said.
The Church authorities have now begun a consultation process with experts from the Archaeological Society of India (ASI) as well as conservation trusts to try and stall the deterioration of the building.
“Various experts in the country and abroad have said that lime plastering of the exposed surface of the Basilica is the only time tested solution to conserve it. If we want to conserve the Basilica, we have to re-plaster the exterior to avoid a major tragedy in the future,” Fr Fernandes said.
The authorities said they earlier feared that an attempt to change the look of the monument would be met with resistance simply because of how people have gotten used to seeing it.
“The reaction has been very encouraging so far with all the feedback we have received asking us to do whatever it takes to help preserve the Basilica,” Fr Fernandes said.
The Church has now formed a committee of experts and authorities, who in consultation with the ASI, will decide the next steps including a thorough study on the damage done so far.